Bringing back the Dead – Art and Drums


When I was 15 or 16, I started playing the drums. One of my parents bought me this used Rogers drum set at the local music store. It was pearl white and represented that uncool disco period when drums were muffled to the point where they sounded like they were stuffed with pillows. It had thick heavy hardware – not the cool skinny jazzy kits of the 60’s and not the slick shiny chrome of the new Pearl and Tama sets. It was definitely the type of kit a parent would buy their kid with the expectations that their interest would wane quickly.

I loved it.

When I got to college, the white pearl finish became decidedly uncool. It was bad enough that girl drummers were an oddity and more than one audition ended in some remark to the effect that “you play well and we’d love you in the group, but we’d be laughed off the stage if anyone knew we had a female drummer. You should go find a girl band.” But then to be stuck playing a pearl white Rogers kit? It even looked like it belonged in a girl band.

Eventually I found my band (of guys) and got more serious. I was gigging regularly and even recorded a couple of albums, so I upgraded to a really nice Gretsch kit and the little Rogers became regulated to a practice set. One summer between semesters, I got an obsession to take out my artistic tendencies on the old kit. I stripped the white plastic finish, sanded it down and then painted the four shells with a fantastic hodgepodge of images, all drawn freehand and rendered in acrylic paint with a size 0 brush (used for painting model trains).

Rogers kit.
Finally set up and ready to play!

When I got back to school in the fall, I took one of the smaller, newly decorated toms and showed it to my college professor, who immediately dismissed it as not being art.

Not art?

Devastated, I quit the fine arts program that day and tumbled out of college within the semester.

Fast-forward almost twenty-nine years. After being lugged around as little more than junk-with-a-memory for a quarter-century, losing most of its hardware and slowly disappearing under a layer of rust and basement/ attic/ garage/storage-unit grime, the drums appeared while we were moving. In stark contrast to previous moves, they did not find themselves once again buried at the back of the garage. No! This time my Darling insisted they go into the house first, even before most of the furniture.

I told him it was pointless. “The hardware is long gone. There’s no way I’m going to play them,” I insisted.

“Then get rid of them,” he shrugged.

But I couldn’t. Those beat-up drums, with their rusted chrome rims, were the only piece of art I ever made and kept (despite the assertion that they were not art). They represented my musical and artistic sides working together in perfect harmony. Never before (and never afterwards) were those two aspects of my personality so balanced. That set represented the innocent artistic me that still believed that I was creating art, and hanging on to them represented the stubborn me that refused to believe that anyone, even someone as lofty as the head of a college fine arts program, had the authority to decide what was and wasn’t art.

“Let me hang on to them a little longer,” I begged. “They are kind of cool-looking. Maybe I can stack them up in the corner – a work of art?”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. But we’re going to get hardware. You are going to play them.”

I procrastinated and complained. I hadn’t played drums in years. I had sold my prized Gretsch kit and given half my hardware to my kids. One of the cymbals had cracked and had been thrown away. Even the snare stand had gone to the Goodwill…

But my Darling wouldn’t give in. He dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the store where I had sold my Gretsch kit. I told them my plight and they found the first pieces: drum spurs, within minutes, as well as a center rack mount for one of my toms. Apparently during the decades it slumbered, it (and other Rogers’ kits) had experienced a new-found popularity.

Suddenly something woke up deep inside and I remembered how much I loved that old kit. I became a kid in a candy store. Drumsticks followed and I gingerly tried out a high-hat stand and chose a new bass pedal. We took home our new-found treasures and I went to work cleaning the set and replacing worn-out heads. It was magical.

Today, after another trip to that and another drum shop looking for a snare stand and some missing memory locks, I had assembled enough pieces to be able to set the kit up. It’s still missing the pieces needed to add the last member, but its now a quite functional kit for me to bang around.

And after almost three decades of wisdom, I have learned that only a fool will discount any creative endeavor (even if it’s rendered on drum shells). That little Rogers drum set IS and always has been Art.

My art.


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